I'm usually quite afraid of the self-help variety of books. I'm afraid they will be the written equivalent of the Hallmark channel or the second halfI'm usually quite afraid of the self-help variety of books. I'm afraid they will be the written equivalent of the Hallmark channel or the second half of a pint of Ben & Jerry's. (You get sucked in and you want out because you know this is doing you no good, but for some reason you keep justifying--one more bite, one more terrible girl-meets-boy-wins-castle-lives-happily-ever-after plot, and then you will go do something useful with your life). In other words, I don't imagine self-help as being very helpful. But this book either proves that my stereotype of the genre is as ridiculous and unfounded as stereotypes usually are, or it breaks the mold. (Naturally, I think it's the latter).
The book is aimed at an interesting blend of audiences: individuals and businesses (or people-people and business-people, I guess, since businesses can't actually read). Occasionally the business talk bugged me, but not for any valid reasons, merely because of what Covey might call my business-scorning paradigm. Overall, the seven principles made sense to me as true ideas and reading about them had the opposite effect of a carton of Half-Baked: it encouraged me to make some important, self-helpful changes.
I nearly had an intense debate with myself about whether this was a four or five star book for me, but I decided not to discourage myself from reviewiI nearly had an intense debate with myself about whether this was a four or five star book for me, but I decided not to discourage myself from reviewing it with that dilemma. (Although,it does seem that intense debate is going on slowly will-I-nil-I underneath my current thoughts). My complaint about Cart and Cwidder is the same complaint I always have about Diana Wynne Jones's books. Serious things happen yet they don't seem to be taken seriously. This isn't quite the best description for the problem, however. I can think of some books where it's a real problem that renders the whole story ridiculous and low-star-ish (for example, if someone's mom gets eaten by a mythical beast and the next day the kid is exactly the same as he was the day before). But in this book that is not really the problem; the serious things that happen (and there are quite a few) have serious consequences on the characters and the plot. What makes it feel problematic is that the narrative style doesn't change. Jones's writing has always seemed just a little vague to me--like the narrator is mildly concussed. And I always expect in moments of crisis that this type of fuzzy writing will be replaced with something more clear and certain, but it never is. The more I've read of her books, the less uncomfortable this denial of expectations has made me. Possibly because I'm coming to expect it, but possibly because it works better in some of her books than others. If that's the case, I think it works especially well in Cart and Cwidder. In fact, the main character, Osfameron Tanamoril (don't worry, you can call him Moril for short), even sheds some light on this characteristic of Jones's writing. Moril is a vague and dreamy kid to most observers--lost in his own world. But it's through this outward appearance of dreaminess that he is actually able to be keenly aware of the things and people around him. Maybe her own slightly-out-of-focus writing is what makes Diana Wynne Jones such a great story-teller....more